What Is A Divorce Decree

If you and your spouse have decided to divorce, you may wonder how to begin to move forward. That’s understandable. Divorce, like any legal matter, can be a complex process. Sometimes, it’s hard to know what the first step is and where the journey will ultimately lead. You may have heard many divorce terms but feel uncertain as to what each one means. That’s normal.

Those considering divorce are often familiar with the term “divorce decree” but aren’t entirely sure what it means or when that decree is entered. Understanding what this term and others in the process mean as you move forward on this journey can be helpful. Let’s take a closer look together.

Divorce Decrees – The Basics

In a nutshell, a divorce decree is the final document entered by the court that officially dissolves a marriage. Prior to the entry of a divorce decree, there are many other steps you must first take in the divorce process.

First and foremost, a couple that wishes to divorce must first live separate and apart for at least one year. This typically means separate residences and an intention by at least one spouse to pursue a divorce. In addition, at least one spouse must have resided in North Carolina for at least a continuous six-month period before filing for divorce. After meeting these initial eligibility requirements, a complaint for divorce can be filed with the clerk in the appropriate county.

Other steps include:

  • Service upon the other spouse: After the initial paperwork, also known as the “complaint” in a divorce case filed, it will be “served” upon the non-filing spouse. Service can happen in any number of ways, depending upon the rules of the particular jurisdiction. Sometimes, a law enforcement officer serves the papers, and in other cases they are served by notice or certified mail, as only a few examples of many.
  • A response: After receiving service, the other spouse will have a time period in which to respond to the complaint. This usually consists of filing an answer that briefly addresses the issues raised and any other matters that may be important.
  • Discovery: In this phase of the case, the parties, through their attorneys, gather and exchange information that will be helpful to identify and resolve the matters at issue.
  • Attempts at resolution: During this stage, the parties will attempt to resolve their issues, ideally outside of a courtroom. To do so, the parties may use various alternative dispute resolution methods like mediation, arbitration, and collaborative law. These methods often save time and money and reduce stress for everyone involved.
  • A court hearing, if necessary: While divorces are often resolved outside the courtroom, this isn’t always the case. Sometimes, despite the best intentions of all parties, solutions for important issues simply can’t be found outside of a courtroom. If this is the case, it’s often best to let a judge resolve the issues. The parties will present their arguments and evidence to the judge, and the court will ultimately issue a decision after hearing each side of the case.
  • Entry of order and final divorce decree: This is the final step of the divorce process. The divorce decree is the last step of many in the divorce journey, and after it is issued, the couple is legally divorced and free to move forward with their separate lives.

Typically, the divorce decree contains all of the pertinent information regarding the issues in the case. If the case went to trial, the decree will often contain the details of the judge’s decision and serve as a judgment that both parties must obey. If the parties chose to resolve their issues outside of court and enter into an agreement, the decree will likely contain the terms of the settlement reached between them.

What Happens After You Receive Your Divorce Decree?

Upon receiving the divorce decree, you’ll officially be divorced. However, there are still a few important steps that you’ll want to take as soon as possible after receiving the decree. These include doing things like:

  • Checking the decree to ensure it’s accurate: In most cases, the decree will be accurate and reflective of the court’s intentions or the agreement the parties reached outside of court. Even so, it’s always wise to read over the terms of the decree just in case. It’s much better to notice any errors or discrepancies immediately and bring them to the court’s attention rather than wait until later.
  • Revising your will: You and your spouse may have a joint will – often, this is the case for married couples. Even if you have a separate will, you may have named your spouse as a beneficiary. In either case, you’ll likely want to revise your will with the assistance of a qualified attorney.
  • Changing the beneficiaries on your insurance policies: As is the case with your will, your spouse may be the named beneficiary on your insurance policies. If this is the case, you will want to name a different beneficiary upon divorce.
  • Changing your financial information: If you share credit cards, bank accounts, or investments with your spouse, you will want to change the information on those accounts as necessary following your divorce. This will include ensuring that each party has access to and owns the appropriate accounts pursuant to the divorce decree.
  • Changing your name: If you took your spouse’s last name during the marriage, you may want to return to another name following the divorce. Doing so will include updating your name with the Social Security Administration and then notifying all other necessary entities of your new name.
  • Ask any questions to your attorney: After receiving the divorce decree, you’ll likely be more than ready to move on to the next chapter ahead. Before you do, though, make sure to ask your attorney any remaining questions you have about the process, the decree, and what it means for you going forward. You want to begin the next chapter with confidence and peace of mind, and ensuring you have the correct information and the guidance you need is the best way to do so.

What if One Spouse Won’t Follow the Terms of the Decree?

After you officially have a divorce decree in place and have taken the necessary steps to prepare for single life after receiving the decree, you’ll be ready to move toward what will hopefully be a better and brighter chapter ahead. As you move forward, though, it will be important for both spouses to continue to abide by the terms of their agreement or by the order of the court, whichever is in place.

Sometimes, however, for any number of reasons, one spouse may not abide by the decree’s terms as they should. Occasionally, anyone can slip or make a mistake – and that’s not what we’re talking about here. If your spouse is an hour late to drop your children off for a custody exchange occasionally or a day or two late paying support every now and then, it’s important to be understanding. After all, you would probably want someone to be understanding of you if the situation were reversed.

In some circumstances, however, one party will consistently fail to abide by the terms of the decree. This could happen for a variety of reasons. One person may accept a new job requiring greater travel or more demanding hours, leading to an ongoing inability to keep the children during the agreed-upon custody hours. In other cases, one person might lose a job, leading to difficulty paying child support and other expenses as expected. In still other circumstances, one person might relocate or remarry. Sometimes, there may be sickness, addiction, or mental health issues that eventually come into play.

Whatever the reason, if one party is regularly violating the terms of the degree, the other party will likely want to take action. Although it can be frustrating when one spouse refuses to abide by the decree, the good news is that a divorce decree has the full force of law behind it. This means that if one party fails to follow the terms of the agreement, the court can hold that party in contempt.

What does being held in “contempt” really mean? People often hear this term and associate it with a judge loudly shouting it as an individual is taken in handcuffs out of a courtroom and off to jail, as in a television drama. Although this can happen, in real life, it rarely does. Essentially, “contempt” just means that one party was aware of an order and intentionally disregarded its terms.

When a court finds a party in contempt, it may order any number of penalties, including jail time – although this is rarely the first penalty administered. Typically, contempt will result in fines, payment of attorney’s fees, and loss of custody time before it will result in jail time. Often, the court will give the offender an opportunity to address the situation and change their behavior. If the offender does so, the court may drop the issue entirely. If the behavior continues, however, penalties will likely be assessed.

The Law Office of Dustin McCrary – We’ll Walk With You

Divorce is a journey – and the official divorce decree is the last stop. However, there are many other twists and turns on that journey before you arrive at the final destination. To get there, you need a trusted guide who can walk the path with you. You need someone with knowledge and experience who can help you navigate through the most challenging portions of that journey and who can help you reach a better and brighter future. That’s where we come in.

We’re passionate about offering excellent representation and guidance to every client we serve. We know how important your case is to you – and we’ll always keep you informed and involved in the process as we work to reach successful outcomes on the issues that matter most to you. You deserve nothing less. At The Law Office of Dustin McCrary, we’ll meet you where you are and walk with you each step of the way. Give us a call today. We look forward to speaking with you soon.

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